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Why I’m going to the UN to fight for the victims of Fukushima

Wednesday, October 11, 2017 22:27
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Mitsuko Sonodasan

I used to live in Fukushima, with my husband and our child. Our village was set in beautiful countryside. We lived in a fantastic natural environment, with a strong local community.

That was until the earthquake hit East Japan on March 11, 2011.

It was a 9.1 magnitude earthquake, the largest to ever hit the country, and it caused a tsunami with nearly 50-ft waves. The disaster destroyed coastal communities and claimed tens of thousands of lives.

The day after it hit, the after-shocks were constant. It was already really frightening, so it gave us an unbelievably massive scare when the following day the containment building of Reactor 1 at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant exploded. A few days later, the containment of Reactor 3 also exploded, and then Reactor 4 the day after that. 

Reactor 3 used MOX fuel, which contains very dangerous plutonium. When it exploded, we decided to evacuate to Western Japan to protect our child.

The government raised the level of ‘acceptable’ exposure to the same standard that nuclear workers are allowed to be exposed to – 20 times higher than the international public standard. My son is not a nuclear worker. He was a little boy and more vulnerable to the effects of radiation than adults.

Like my family, many who fled the contaminated region left areas where levels were below the emergency guidelines but many times higher than what is acceptable for the rest of the public. We have been labelled so-called ‘self-evacuees.’ Our problems have been treated as our own. We have never received any compensation, only some housing support.

My heart was torn apart when I left Fukushima, but we had to protect our child from the potential effects of radiation.

Nuclear waste storage in Fukushima city. Plastic bags with contaminated soil are stored on the street.Nuclear waste storage in Fukushima city. Plastic bags with contaminated soil are stored on the street.

The side-effects for the children of Fukushima haven’t just been physical. Some of the evacuee children have struggled to adjust to a different environment. They’ve continued to miss their family, friends and old school, and have been bullied by other children in their new places. There were even rumours of radiation ‘contagion.’ Many children also really miss their fathers, who have often stayed in Fukushima for their jobs.

Mothers have silently been tackling these difficulties, including health problems in themselves and their children. We’ve sometimes been labeled as neurotic, irrational and overprotective, with our worries about radiation exposure dismissed. Family divisions and divorce have been common. All the while, we miss our relatives, friends, old community and the nature we used to live in. 

In March this year, evacuation orders were lifted by the government, and the housing support for self-evacuees was stopped. Citizens were pressured to return to Fukushima, even if they didn’t feel it was safe. Research said radiation levels still exceeded the government’s long-term goals. On top of that, because the evacuation orders have been lifted, TEPCO will also stop compensation for victims from these areas by March 2018.

Our lives have already been made so much harder. We need this accommodation support to be able to continue any kind of stable life, and are being pressured to return to places we don’t think are safe.

Greenpeace survey team member conducts radiation measurement scanning.

Before Fukushima, they said a major accident could not happen. Now they say radiation is not a problem. They say hardly any evacuation is needed, so hardly any compensation is needed. But why should we have to return to live in a radioactive area? Nuclear victims don’t seem to have the right to be free from radiation. It feels as though we’re being ignored. It’s almost as if we don’t exist.

I’m traveling to Geneva this week to testify at a Pre-Session for the United Nations Human Rights Council’s review of Japan, called the Universal Periodic Review (UPR).

What happened in the immediate aftermath was a failure. But Prime Minister Abe’s current resettlement policies are deliberately violating our human rights. If the Japanese government doesn’t support the nuclear survivors, what’s stopping other countries doing the same in the future. We don’t want that.

I know so many mothers who have been suffering and struggling as a result of the nuclear disaster, because the Japanese government and TEPCO won’t admit to their responsibilities. I want the Japanese government to take responsibility for the nuclear disaster and stop all nuclear power plants. It should support people who want to evacuate, rather than pressuring them to live in high radiation areas — especially the children. They should check people’s health and the environment more thoroughly, and make sure that information is made publicly available.

It is useful to cooperate with Greenpeace. I know I am not alone in Geneva: I believe we are all connected, and I hope our voices can reach the world both to help Japan and as a warning to others.

Mitsuko Sonoda is a Fukushima nuclear accident survivor and evacuee. She now advocates for the rights of nuclear disaster victims and is going to the UN with the support of Greenpeace Japan.


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  • Thoth

    An Italian physics professor did a study on the Fukushima disaster and concluded that an amount of radioactive material 42 times greater than that needed to extinguish human life on this planet has been released. It’s only a matter of time before it spreads around the earth and bio-accumulates up the food chain. If there is a scientific solution to this, I don’t know what it would be. And there are another 440 or so reactors also just waiting to have an accident. This age of the world has just about come to a close. But if it’s any consolation, the next one will be great. And it’s only Approx. 440,000 years away! And when you wake up, you’ll just chalk this world up to so kind of bizarre dream. Probably the result of something you ate.

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